Superman is a notoriously difficult character to make interesting. With his Christ-like moral virtue firmly entrenched in the public consciousness, and the weight of multi-platform corporate synergy resting on his broad, Kryptonian shoulders, he defies almost all valid attempts at character-based drama. And yet as a heroic archetype he has undeniable power, which is why the comics landscape is littered with Superman analogues; an apocryphal root system grown with all the stories that couldn’t be told with the character himself.
Techland.com recently posted a fairly comprehensive round-up of all the extant Superman variants: black Superman, gay Superman, and so on. Unfortunately they only had one spot for “bad Superman” and chose to go with Irredeemable‘s Plutonian, Mark Waid’s meta-take on his own personal writing maxim: give the audience what they want, but not what they expect (especially when that’s what they expect). While Irredeemable undeniably has its moments, it’s status as an ongoing serial eventually wore me down; the fun-factor of mega-level cynicism went too long without a break for me to make the open-ended commitment required by a monthly book.
If I had to pick a “bad Superman” to shine a light on, it would have been Alpha One from The Mighty.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Keith Champagne, with art by Peter Snejberg and Chris Samnee, The Mighty was a 12-issue limited series published last year by DC Comics. Despite the publisher, The Mighty is not set in the same fictional universe as Superman, Batman, et al., but instead tells the story of a world with only one superpowered being: Alpha One, a caped do-gooder with the familiar abilities of flight, strength, super-senses and heat vision. Ostensibly Alpha One protects the world, ably assisted by Section Omega: a private police force who fund themselves with official Alpha One licensing revenue and do all the messy bureaucratic clean-up that gets left in the wake of a super-saviour. When Gabriel Cole assumes the leadership of Section Omega after his predecessor is murdered, it appears to be the culmination of his life’s dream. However, as his relationship with Alpha One grows closer, so do his suspicions that the hero is not entirely what he seems.
The co-authors do a fantastic slow-build of mystery and creeping dread as it becomes apparent that Alpha One is a superman with secrets, and that those secrets are super-disturbing. It would have been easy to play Alpha as a one-note wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, but Tomasi and Champagne keep things just ambiguous enough to make the reader genuinely anxious for the story’s human point-of-view characters, without being able to say exacty what the danger is.
The Mighty is the kind of story you could never do with Superman–the kind of story no one in their right mind would want to do with Superman–but it’s an interesting take on the terror inherent in the idea of superhumanity, and I’m happy it exists in some form.
Even if it’s analogue.